Tobacco is sending Zimbabwe’s forests up in smoke – what can small-scale farmers do?

A tobacco farmer holds his crop before the opening of the tobacco selling season in Harare, Zimbabwe, 30 March 2022. - Copyright AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Dressed in a thick brown jacket and wearing a traditional blue headwrap, 54-year-old Spiwe Juru sits on the floor sifting through tobacco leaves at her farm in Nyazura, in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province.

This is Juru’s busiest day in winter as she sorts tobacco leaves based on their colour and quality, before taking the “golden leaf” for sale at the auction floors, a venue for tobacco trading, in the capital of Harare.

For tobacco leaves to turn from green to yellow, small-scale farmer Juru uses firewood to burn them in homemade barns in a process known as curing, which removes moisture from tobacco using controlled temperatures over several weeks.

Farai Shawn Matiashe
Small-scale farmer Spiwe Juru grading tobacco leaves in a makeshift shelter in Nyazura, a farming area near Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third largest city.Farai Shawn Matiashe

For every kilogram of tobacco, about 10 kg of wood is used in the curing process. “Each year I use firewood from the forests to cure tobacco,” says Juru, with a glowing face.

She has supported, clothed and fed six children with tobacco farming, and today sits in a makeshift grading shelter made of pole and dagga, with two helpers including her husband.